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Bell Boots: Why, When and How to Use Them on Your Horses

Last updated: November 20, 2022

By: Miles HenryFact Checked

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I was getting our horses ready to go on a trail ride and saw my grandson putting bell boots on his horse. When I told him to take them off, I opened up a can of worms; he wanted to know why his horse couldn’t have them, what they were used for, and when to put them on his horse.

Bell boots are a horse’s first line of defense against their own sharp back feet. They wrap around the front hoofs and cover the vulnerable coronary band and heel bulbs, which are crucial for preventing lacerations to these sensitive areas.

We often use bell boots when training our horses or for those prone to overreaching and injuring themselves. But not all horses need bell boots.

Picture of a racehorse with bell boots.

What’s the purpose of bell boots for horses?

Bell boots are protective equipment that attaches to the horse’s front feet. The bell boot serves two purposes for equestrians: it protects their horses’ from injury and prevents their back feet from hitting the horseshoes on their front feet and pulling them off.

When they run, some horses tend to overreach and strike the front of their rear hoofs into the back of their front feet. The soft regions at the heel bulb and coronary band are most susceptible to injury from this hitting.

What do bell boots protect?

The heel bulb, coronary band, and lower pastern are the common area damaged. Sometimes an overreach injury can be severe and cause permanent damage.

Heel bulbs are the region that most often gets injured by overreaching. The heel bulb is the fleshy part of the rear section of a horse’s foot – right above their hairline and below their pasterns.

A horse’s rear hoof can strike the heel bulb with such force that it cuts through flesh and severely injure your horse, causing pain, swelling, and profuse bleeding. In some cases, horses develop long-lasting problems and lameness.

The most serious injuries occur when a horse strikes the back of its pastern. Higher-up overreach injuries on the back of their leg may also end up with them in surgery due to lacerating tendons or going into tendon sheath just above the fetlock area.

black.thoroughbred edited

How do horses wear bell boots?

There are two primary types of bell boots, pull-on, and open bell boots, with velcro closures. Pull-on boots are typically made of rubber and slide over your horse’s foot. They are easy to clean and great for horses who need boots during turn-out and often get their feet wet.

Fitting pull-on bell boots

Pull-on bell boots shouldn’t fit snugly on your horse’s pastern but rather be loose. They can irritate the horse’s skin and rub it raw if they are tight. To help prevent chafing, some bell boots are fleece lined, which is good but fitting your boots correctly is still important.

Ideally, you should be able to fit a finger between the top of the bell boot and your horse’s lower leg. But you should only be able to fit one finger because if the boots are too large, they will slide off your horse’s foot. When your horse is standing on a flat surface, the back of the boot should almost touch the ground.

Most bell boots come in four sizes: small, medium, large, and extra-large. Arabians and Quarter horses typically use medium, Thoroughbreds large, and extra-large fit Warmbloods. There is a lot of variation in manufacturer sizing, so it’s best to be safe and read reviews before buying.

Putting pull-on bell boots on your horse.

Putting pull-on bell boots on your horse isn’t always easy and takes some practice. First, turn the bell boot inside out. Then lift your horse’s foot and put the bell boot on, starting at the bottom of it.

As you put it on, pull hard to stretch it, work your way up to where it is smaller, and then tug on it until you can fit your horse’s hoof through. Once it’s on, flip it down, and the boot is ready.

Flexible bell boots that stretch easily work best to get the best fit and are easier to get over the horse’s hoof.

Putting on open-bell boots

Putting on open-bell boots on your horse is easy. You just wrap them around the horse’s hoof and then secure them with velcro straps. Some have a hook-and-loop closure so you can adjust to fit different size feet.

Bell boots designed with velcro straps are typically more expensive, but they save you time getting them on and off, and most are made of sturdier material than their pull-on counterparts.

How do you know if your horse needs bell boots?

An easy way to know if your horse would benefit from wearing bell boots is if they come back from working with scrapes or swelling on its heels. Another thing to look for is if they are constantly losing shoes or frequently have loose shoes.

Bell boots help protect the shoes on your horse’s front feet from being pulled off when they’re hit by their back foot. This is common among some horses that have been turned out to play or ones running fast, but it can happen during other activities too!

Picture of a race horse wearing bell boots

What is the difference between bell boots and overreach boots?

The terms overreach boots and bell boots are used interchangeably and describe the same protective gear. They are designed to protect horses from injuries when their hind foot strikes into the heel of a horse’s front.

Horses are known to overreach with their hind foot, striking directly into the heels of their front feet. The term ‘overreach’ is used both as an action and injury when this happens.

The damage caused by overreaching can be severe, so wearing protective covering such as bell boots and leg boots becomes crucial for all types of riding activities or work routines involving many horses.

Tips for using bell boots:

Here are some helpful tips to keep your horse comfortable when wearing bell boots:

  • Inspect the bell boots before and after using them. Even slight tears in them can irritate your horses’ skin.
  • Before placing on bell boots, wipe your horse’s hoof because dirt can rub against the skin and cause sores.
  • After you finish working your horse take off bell boots to get air to their lower legs, and their hair and skin can dry.
  • Clean your bell boots and pay special attention to get the dirt out from the inside and on the top rim.
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What size bell boots do I need for my horse?

You should check with the bell boot manufacturer and measure your horse to ensure you get a pair of correctly fitting bell boots. Note: bell boots should fit snug, cover the heel bulbs and almost reach the ground at the back of the horses’ hoof.

Can you leave bell boots on all the time?

It’s best to remove bell boots sometimes so your horses’ legs can get air. It is important to be aware of the environment that your horse’s hooves are in. Leaving boots on all the time, for example, can lead to thrush or bacterial infections and chafe their legs.